Disney is Licensing Anime Now; So What?

In a turn of events that will certainly rock the anime community, Disney+ is now jumping into the anime streaming market. Depending on who you are, this either results in feelings of utter despair or perhaps a simple “oh, cool.” I’m more in the latter camp.

I suppose it was only natural. Star Wars Visions was an anime anthology the likes of which we haven’t witnessed since Batman: Gotham Knights or The Animatrix. In my review on Whoa! Anime, I likened it to a rekindling of my passion for this franchise. It covered such a wide array of styles from some of the most notable studios in the world. Disney taking an interest in anime should have been obvious.

They’re already attached to Studio Ghibli, the films of which lit up my childhood with unmatched whimsy. Why shouldn’t I have predicted this? I honestly can’t say. All I know is that it’s happening now, and a lot of people I know are probably going to complain about it. And I’m not here to say they’ll be wrong. I just think it’s literally too early to tell.

So what shows are Disney bringing to their platform, and what do their choices indicate as to the kinds of tastes they wish to corner?

Tatami Time Machine Blues

Perhaps the hottest item among the announced shows, this show is a sequel to the certified classic, The Tatami Galaxy, one of Masaaki Yuasa’s crowning achievements back at Madhouse. Now, Shingo Natsume (One Punch Man, Space Dandy), hot off of the success of Sonny Boy, is directing its sequel.

Full disclosure, I’m not cultured. I haven’t watched Tatami Galaxy yet. I know that it’s considered to be one of the great prestige works of anime and everyone who has watched it has told me it’s good. It’s one of those that makes you feel like a more interesting person for having watched it, like Steins;Gate. But alas, I haven’t seen it.

But Disney acquiring it doesn’t feel like something random. I don’t feel like it was something chosen just because it was up for grabs. I get the sense that it was chosen because the brand is so well respected within the community. Maybe I’m reading into it too much but considering that Disney getting into anime doesn’t inspire much confidence, seeing something as cultured as this get acquired gives me some hope.

Summer Time Rendering

Once again, another unexpected grab. Disney, the company most associated with family-friendly homogenization, has acquired a dark supernatural mystery show. Once again, this is me reconciling my preconceived notions about what fits Disney’s brand. As it is, the show is such a mystery that we don’t even know who is producing it.

Black Rock Shooter: Dawn Fall

You either remember Black Rock Shooter as that weirdly awesome OVA from back in the day, the 2012 CGI series, or you’ve just seen the character around the net (especially if you’re into Vocaloid). The new entry comes from Bibury Animation Studios (Azur Lane, The Quintessential Quintuplets Season 2). That’s pretty much the extent of what we know. It’s not even certain whether it’ll be 2D or 3D. I hope that it’ll be hand-drawn like the original OVA.

Twisted Wonderland

Now, this is what I expected when I heard “Disney in Anime.” Twisted Wonderland is a Japanese mobile game based on Disney villains. The prospect of an adaptation intrigues me, but I’m curious exactly what the target demographic for this show will be. Presumably, a property like this would have more Disney oversight so I’m curious what market it will target.

Where Will Disney Take This?

Is this going to be a passing interest by one of the biggest companies on the planet, trying to capitalize on a growing trend? Will it be mismanaged and poorly advertised like Amazon’s foray into anime? Will they consistently add new anime to Disney+ or will they only acquire shows sporadically that fit their criteria, whatever that may turn out to be?

As Disney starts branching out to include more international content, this could be a symptom of larger goals. In that sense, this doesn’t seem overly reactionary, and the choice of content feels more than just trend-hopping. Furthermore, the creative freedom given to the producers of Star Wars Visions gives some hope for a similar approach to the content going forward, whether licensed or overseen by Disney.

But despite whatever promising shows get announced, there is a larger issue at the forefront of people’s minds when this news comes up. The same issue that’s been talked about in the industry a lot more in the last year: overwork.

What Disney Can/Should Do

The meteoric rise of Studio MAPPA and the revelations about the working conditions at the studio as well as the resurgence of a larger discussion about working conditions in anime and Japan as a whole. Anime is bigger than ever, but it feels like the treatment of animators hasn’t gotten better at all. It is a labor of love that seems to give back very little.

As anime becomes more popular, it isn’t as though we are getting a substantial number of new shows that are great either. More shows are coming out each season than ever before and while there is a lot to be excited about, there’s also more crap along with it. As the world starts to take a larger interest in anime, the production apparatus of the industry is milking its workers for all they’re worth without improving the conditions.

I suppose my excitement or dread at the prospect of Disney starting to get into anime licensing hinges on how they go about it. If Disney, with all its power and its prestige as a studio that was founded with animation at its core, helps alleviate some of these concerns, I’ll be very excited. And this doesn’t just mean more money. It means assurances of less tight schedules and better pay.

But how realistic is that? Depending on your opinion of Disney, not very. If they’re merely licensing shows that are already being produced for release worldwide, we may not see much difference at all. However, if Disney is planning to be more involved within the production end, maybe those conditions could change. And that’s considering how well they treat their animators, which – from what I’ve read – seems to be better than over in Japan.

Not every studio is the same. Some places are patently worse than others, but when it comes to anime nowadays, it feels more and more like a matter of which is the least terrible rather than who is the best, and that’s a shame. Regardless of the outcome, Disney’s involvement with anime streaming could either be another in a long line of new companies jumping on the trend or a turning point.

I hope for the latter, but I’m not holding my breath.

What are your thoughts on Disney getting into anime streaming? Is it a tragedy or a good omen? Leave a comment below and tell me which of the shows Disney announced you’re most interested in.

Thanks for reading and as always, I’ll see you next time.

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